India’s economy is greatly impacted by the dairy business, milk itself makes up the largest selling product of the country. The geographically expansive market for dairy products is always hustling with buyers and sellers, a feature that makes entry and exit from the market easy for small scale businesses and migrant workers. Only about a tenth of the market comes under the organised sector. Mostly based in the rural and peripheral areas of the city, dairy farmers are a big chunk of the working demand-supply chain in the market.
In this scenario, a shift of lens to the process of milk harvesting is a telling story in itself. The industry has not been under serious question due to many reasons, of which, three are most pressing — the most effective tool being rigged studies, funded by the ones running businesses, then comes the normalisation of animal torture, aligned with clever marketing that hides the real face of what goes inside the milking industry. This is further topped with consumer ignorance and religious beliefs surrounding milk and its related products in the country.
Cows, like any other mammal, produce milk for their infants. Being extremely maternal animals, they go through 300 days of pregnancy. New-born calves are weak at birth and require proper nourishment from their mother’s milk. Sadly, this does not work well for the farmers and the milk is extracted and sold off in the market before the calf can have it. Instead, diluted nectar and sometimes, its medicinal alternative is fed to the calves, who remain in poor health for a very long time. Male calves are segregated from female ones after a few months. Male calves are sold off to slaughterhouses for their flesh, while female calves are pushed to the cycle of childbearing and lactation.
This would seem obvious to anyone who has have ever thought about where milk comes from. But here’s the darker picture. The cows owned in most of the sheds across India are fed improperly and they barely get to move throughout their lives. They are kept hooked to their spots, where they are fed and milked, without substantial movement, making the cattle unhealthy and weak. Calves are deprived of their mother’s milk, which is an essential element for any infants’ healthy growth.
Due to bad health and weakness, as well as to increase milk bearing capacities, these animals are injected with medicines that are harmful to both the animal and the consumer of milk. The process of natural impregnation is difficult and time taking, and to get the cows pregnant again right after delivering, injections are given. This reduces the ‘non-productive’ period and greatly increases milk production. This gruesome process severely impacts the cattle both mentally and physically. Their bodies are weak and tired, and the mental trauma of separation from their calves is a lifelong pain they have to endure.
The calves create an economy of their own. Male are fed poorly and later sold off at cheap rates for their meat to slaughterhouses. Separated from their mothers soon after birth, they are kept in terrible conditions in the slaughterhouses. These calves do not see many days. Most of the meat produced in India is exported to foreign countries. India ranks amongst the world’s biggest beef exporters. The female calves are injected to grow faster and are soon medicinally impregnated, continuing the cycle.
Cattle owners in the informal sector are poor and technologically backward, depending solely on manual labour and market demand. On the other hand, big farms are better off in terms of milk processing and preservation. However, the life of the Sisyphean cattle remains the same. The industry sustains on unethical, unsustainable and cruel grounds. The dairy industry thrives on animal torture and a cycle of systemic cruelty.
What does this leave us with? Probably a shift to vegan alternatives may help. However, almond and soy milk are expensive and aren’t easily affordable for everyday use, nor are they as easily available as cow or buffalo milk. Recent studies are drawing some worrisome links between regular milk consumption and cancer, diabetes, reduces bone density and so on. Perhaps, this leaves us speculating whether regular consumption of milk is even necessary. Additionally, exploring plant-based options may actually offer better alternatives in the longer run.